Miss Scarlet Black was lost. It was her own fault, and each echoing step served as a reminder of her folly. She traversed through the twisted network of narrow streets with only an address and a man's name written in smudged ink on a wrinkled scrap of paper. The unfamiliar avenues crowded with the public squalor of the city only guaranteed disorientation for the young lady.
“Baker Street? No. Decker Avenue? No, that’s not it either,” she questioned her directions while peering at the monotonous street signs. With an exasperated sigh, Scarlet attempted to remove herself from the jostling river of pedestrians to reexamine the folded slip of paper. Unfortunately, they neglected to pass her by in peace. Elbows, hips, and baskets knocked against her without a word of apology until she was flat against the window of a shop. She clutched the paper with both hands to prevent it from slipping out of her fingers and abandoning her in the faceless crowd. While cautiously unfurling the paper, Scarlet pinched the corner with quivering fingers. The opposite end fluttered in the wind; the sight sent her heart into a fit of spasms. Swatting away the drooping elongated feathers from her hat, she endeavored to read her handwriting, yet the smeared numbers and words still could not guide Scarlet in the right direction. She remained astray from her path. More than anything else, she needed a guide through the gray city of Bath.
Earlier, she attempted hailing a carriage outside her home, but no one would stop for the odd sight of a formally dressed woman walking on her own. She spent nearly half her walk failing to attract the attention of a respectable cabbie. However, her efforts and undertaking of the walk garnered the disdainful and detached interest of passer-bys in both halves of the city. Her eyes drifted over the taut faces passing in the jostle of traffic. They were engrossed with their own tasks, which was precisely what Scarlet desired. For her to achieve that, she needed one of them to surrender a few minutes of their own time for a stranger. However, out of all the people, only a pack of leering young men looked her way. Clenching her fists, Scarlet turned her face away when her gaze crossed one of their perverse stares. They skulked after her, shuffling several steps behind Scarlet as she progressed down the street to search for someone else to question. Her thumb circled the curling edge of the page, loosely holding it as she studied the passing faces for one that may offer assistance.
Heedless in her search, Scarlet neglected to tighten the vice of her fingers on the paper. A stray wind whisked it away, and her heart stilled at the sight of the flight. One hand clutched her chest with the intent of squeezing her heart into life, while the other waved in the air. She shouted for aid, but the few who lifted their eyes to her plight said nothing. Scarlet fought past them to purse the paper, and blindly ignored the complaints and disgruntled looks from those she pushed aside. Her feet stumbled over the uneven pavement, yet she did not lower her head to secure steadier footsteps. With each change of direction in the wind, her heart seized and turned. The page dipped, but remained too far ahead of her. Both her arms flailed in the air with her desperation. Another shout flickered past the ears of the pedestrians, as well as the gasp when a hand reached up and snatched the paper. She froze, unsure of how to proceed. Her possible savior did not allow her any time to make a decision. As he pushed his way towards her, she recognized him as one of the men that had previously trailed after her. Licking her lips, she whipped her head to the side and spotted his compatriots.
“Believe this is yours, miss,” he spoke crisply, the words rolling out of his mouth. Scarlet stuttered her thanks as she wrung her hands together. Her first clue rested in the man’s bare hand, crinkling as he held it out. “Anything else a lovely lass like yourself might need?” he inquired, slightly withdrawing his hand when she reached for it.
“No, nothing. Thank you very much,” Scarlet shrilly uttered. She swatted at his taunting hand as an effort to retrieve the copy of the address. The rash swipe forced her pulse to race; her blood quickened further once the man withdrew the hand with her prize and took her by the wrist with his empty hand. His fingers loosely wrapped around her, yet the thought of struggling away terrified Scarlet. She watched with wide eyes as the man lifted the paper and pretended to read it. The foolhardy deception irked Scarlet once she noticed how his eyes never drifted from her face and then her body. After the disgust filtered away from the forefront of her mind, it occurred to her that she still possessed use of her second hand. It snapped up and wrenched the page out of his grip. The man laughed at her, rocking on his heels. Scarlet refused to share in any of the mirth when she spotted a portion of her page left behind in the man’s hand. He presumed to not care as he lowered his hand and the bit flittered into the air once more.
“You look lost, miss. Let me and me mates help you out,” he insisted with a tilt of his head. Scarlet’s voice faltered as she presented an excuse, unable to rationally form one as she unrolled the paper. The address remained intact, but her prospective host’s name lacked the latter half of his surname. Compressing the paper in her palm, Scarlet prayed a short thanks that a lifetime of memorization rendered that line on the page unnecessary.
“Thank you again for your offer, but I have no need of it,” the lie was heavy on her tongue. Greed in the eyes of the man before her propelled her feet to the side. As he tipped his hat to her in parting, Scarlet hastened her gait. She could not withstand the paranoid inclination to twist her head and watch as the man rejoined his compatriots. The second of viewing them consult each other sated it, and Scarlet swiftly turned her head to the streets before her.
Flustered by the encounter, she found herself even more unsure of her ability to navigate. Yet Scarlet refused to exhibit any signs of her personal doubts. She wove through the people around her, craning her neck to briefly deduce the possibility of stopping one to provide her with clarification. Distempered expressions met her eyes and darkened her hopes. Gritting her teeth, Scarlet told herself that she needed to speak with some stranger before reaching the end of the street.
“Excuse me, but do you know where I could find one hundred and seven Chester Street?” Scarlet turned to a passing hunchbacked street vendor. After refusing to buy any of the suspicious smelling food from his crooked cart, she attempted to show him the bit of paper in her gloved hand. He coughed at her in response, spittle flying out of his mouth. The question remained in her mouth momentarily, caged by disgust. One foot slid backwards, but she was held in place by her need. “Can you please point me in the direction of Chester Street?” she asked as he wiped his mouth on his ripped knit gloves. She felt uncomfortable under his beady eyes, but did not budge. Only after looking over her neatly dressed form and lingering on her small purse did he speak.
“Ain’t any Chester ‘round ‘ere. If ya lookin’ for Checker Street, that’s one mo’ over,” he answered in a gruff voice, cracking over the words. With Scarlet not providing him any business, he hurried away to pursue those with money to spare.
“Thank you,” Scarlet called out before he vanished behind the surge of moving people. When her eyes returned to the paper, she squinted. Indeed, the address very well could be Checker Street, instead of Chester. She could barely recall writing it down. At the time, her mind was abundant with more distracting thoughts. The memory danced around in her head, taunting her. Looking up at the hazy sky, she pondered on what to do in her undertaking. In all likelihood, the vender knew this area much better, so Scarlet decided to trust his directions. There were no other imaginable options left, aside from turning around and heading home. That, however, was impossible. The image of her disapproving mother resounded in the forefront of her mind, and it sealed her decision. Crumpling up the paper and shoving it in her coat pocket, she resumed her trek towards the answers at one hundred and seven Checker Street.
She strode with as much purpose as she could muster, moving swiftly despite the bulk of her light blue dress. Her head remained high, eyes straight forward. Neither wavered, even though she longed to behold the tightly crammed buildings around her. Not even the stench of working men or the rampant games of children deterred her course. Strong winter winds forcefully pushed her as they whipped around the street corners. They pressed against her black hat, and she was thankful for the pins securing it against her tightly curled hair. Bitter blasts sought to work through her clothing to tire her limbs with the cold, but Scarlet resisted the stinging temptations to return to a warm house. As she moved, her bustle swished back and forth and her black boots clacked sharply on the cold hard street. While Scarlet felt propelled by the sounds of her venture, they barely stood out against the resounding din of the street. Everything around her was brisk and sharp, from the calls of old friends meeting each other to the angry shouts of intersecting cabbies. Scarlet was not accustomed to such ruckus, but still rapidly moved herself through it. Stepping around shallow puddles from last night’s storm, she did not let her momentum falter.
After gazing up at the row of lofty brick houses, she turned right. A dull street sign above her head confirmed that she traveled down the correct route. Her gait increased with the prospect of uncovering the beginning of a long sought truth. The number one hundred and seven glinted at her from across the street. In the corner of her eye, she noticed her pursuers holding back to talk amongst themselves. While she could not guess at their words, their frantic waving hands and shaking heads unnerved her. After one man slapped his companion’s arm, they fled down another street. Distracted by a brief moment of hesitation, Scarlet sought to peer after her pursuers. Their odd presence distracted her, yet it did not last once they departed from her vision. Inhaling the pungent air, Scarlet darted towards her destination. Avoiding the oncoming traffic of rattling carriages and slime of the streets involved a great deal of maneuvering. With her right hand, she held up as much of the train as was socially acceptable and held down her black hat with the other. Once she arrived on the other side of the street, she stopped to inspect the damage. Only a few drops of polluted rainwater stirred from stagnant puddles and hit Scarlet’s blue dress. The tiny dark marks stood out against the rich pink trim of her dress, but Scarlet knew they could be removed by her maid upon her return. She dismissed the worry and smoothed out the fabric around her waist. All her thoughts now centered on what lay behind the door in front of her. After nearly a year of searching for its resident, she had arrived. Her heart beat against her ribcage, eager for her great discovery to unleash its benefits.
Retrieving the slip of paper for the last time, Scarlet shifted her eyes between the crumpled half sheet clenched in her gloved hand and the brass numbered plate to assure herself they matched. She had indeed found the place. Sucking in her breath, Scarlet knocked on the door four times. Then, taking a step back, she waited. To her extreme displeasure, nothing happened. Licking her lips, she knocked again, a tad stronger. The silence inside the house continued. Narrowing her eyes, Scarlet began banging vigorously. Finally, she heard a crash, a series of low thumps, and then the clicking of the door latch.
“What do you want?” a raggedy man asked as he peered around the partially opened door. Scarlet was silent with distress as she took in his disheveled appearance. The moment the door opened, her nose was flooded with an array of foul odors, dominated by the stink of sweat and alcohol. That alone created a desire to leave at once, yet it was the first of many flaws to flood her vision. The man’s dirty blond hair was a tangled mess, with some locks sticking straight up and others matted against his head. Loose braces hung down from his waistband. His sunken eyes were bloodshot with dark shadows underneath them. From that and the wrinkles covering his trousers and half-buttoned shirt, Scarlet assumed she woke her host from his afternoon nap. The stern frown confirmed it. “You’re not here for Patrick, are you? No, you’re not his type. He likes to dab it up with…” his words transformed into a yawn. When he finished, the man looked her over with a quizzical twitch of his eyebrows. “Have we met?” he slurred, craning his neck forward.
“You see, it’s rather complicated. I’m-” Scarlet began her introduction, but was interrupted by the man stumbling forward with a shocked expression.
“Are you from the Hog’s Head? Did I…did we?” he asked her with wide eyes. The assumption was obvious. Taken aback, Scarlet had half a mind to slap him and leave at once.
“Heavens no! I would never-”
“Thank the lord. Thought you were another girl coming to tell me you were pregnant,” he laughed hoarsely, but his face showed passing relief. Still, Scarlet was stunned and could find no response. She could not comprehend how she possibly could have heard him say “another”. Seeming to ignore the continued silence on her part, the man stepped aside. “Come in,” he spoke slowly, eyeing Scarlet more intently. Giving him a short nod, she stepped inside. Following behind her, the man quickly patted down his mangy hair in order to appear presentable, only for her sake. It did not help alter the first impression in the slightest in her eyes. His clothes were still half undone, and he didn’t appear to notice. She stopped in the front hall, waiting for him to introduce himself and offer to take her velvet coat. The latter would have been difficult as Scarlet saw there was no place to hang it. Those of the co-inhabitants were allowed to fall in a pile on the floor. Her shoe grazed the sleeve of one jacket, and she speedily backed away. It was uncomfortable, but Scarlet kept her coat on. Instead of addressing her, her host motioned with his other hand to show Scarlet into the main room. She timidly walked forward, her head filling with implausible fears that the ramshackled interior would collapse from the echo of her footsteps.
“I assume you are Mister Red?” Scarlet asked as she looked for a place to sit. The two chairs were littered with magazines of crudely drawn cartoons and dirty clothes, and the low couch was covered in tattered blankets. She instead decided to stand perfectly still and not approach the mess.
“With two ‘d’s, but it’s pronounced the same. Colby Redd,” he responded, tossing the blankets behind the couch after catching Scarlet’s barely successful attempts to not gawk. Smiling politely, she tried not to further stare at the utter disarray around her. Finding it much harder than expected, she trained her eyes on Mr. Redd’s square face. He kept running his tongue over his cracked lips, which were sunken deeply in his pallid face. It was hard to watch him for long without feeling peculiarly nauseated, and so she focused on the couch. When she sat on the edge, thousands of flecks of dust flew out of the stiff cushions like a pack of released hounds. Wincing, Scarlet held back an oncoming sneeze by pressing the back of her hand against her nose.
“My…um…My name is Scarlet Black and…uh,” as Scarlet spoke, she struggled to fight against the tingling in her nose. Closing her eyes so she could finally release the sneeze, she missed the remotely cheerful expression on Mr. Redd’s face vanish.
“Black, ey?” he grunted, clenching his eyes shut. He lingered before the couch, unsure whether to sit or stand. Finally, Mr. Redd decided to pace in front of the couch. Watching him move, Scarlet wondered if she should continue with her prepared speech. The words in her head derived from an amalgamation of different letters she wrote and never sent over the course of the past few months. He, however, already guessed the intention behind her abrupt visit. “You’re here about our fathers, come to bother me about the fire. I should have known you’d show up sooner or later,” he sighed, and then toppled onto the couch. His hunched back threatened to collapse, and remained weakly supported by his arms holding up his head. As more dust flew into the air, Scarlet quickly covered her mouth.
“I’ve been meaning to come see you for some time, but I’ve only just been able to track you down,” she spoke gradually after lowering her hand. Mr. Redd’s stern expression remained, even when Scarlet gave him her best smile. The two lines of white teeth made him angrier.
“Get to the point,” he snapped at her. Scarlet trembled with fear from the violence in his voice. If she had been anywhere else, she would have hidden behind a cup of tea until both parties were calm. Here, she doubted if her host even had the proper supplies to make tea. So instead, Scarlet took a deep breath and clasped her hands together. This was the exact moment she had dreamt about for over a year.
“I’m sure you’ve received your fair share of people asking about our fathers and their enterprises. All sorts of people visited my family throughout the years. I have never considered listening to these people for even a second, that is…until recently,” Scarlet’s words passed over a tongue which felt as if it was composited of paste. The callous stare of Mr. Redd nearly demolished her wits; however, Scarlet’s nerves solidified after staring down at her folded hands. “One man sought out my mother and I to ask if he could write a series of short stories based on our fathers and their ‘adventures’. He spoke about discovering the truth behind their attempt at a detective agency, and telling the public everything,” she treaded carefully through her subsequent words in order to further pacify Mr. Redd. When she stopped, he leaned forward with a hard glare in his green eyes. While Scarlet idolized her father’s private detective career, Mr. Redd clearly had a great issue with it. His less than positive reactions befuddled the woman captivated by a memory. The late Misters Black and Redd were sought after by those with unfortunate trials. They took jobs the police would not, and solved them faster with their unorthodox methods. Their lives were dedicated to fixing everyone’s troubles, no matter the cost.
“And what about this offer brought you here? Finally decide to turn our fathers’ memory into a profit?” Mr. Redd sneered at her. Seeing her remaining collected under his attack, he threw his head back. With a groan and wave of his hand, he told her to continue.
“I will have you know that I refused to grant my permission. I only thought about his desire for an investigation into their lives and work. So I explored my house after he left. That’s when I found this,” Scarlet said as she lifted up her left hand. Reaching under the edge of her sleeve, she tugged at her bracelet. Lifting an eyebrow, Mr. Redd leaned in closer so he could see the black cord tied around her wrist. A key with gold numbers embossed across the top hung down and swayed with her movements. The dim light in the room glinted of the newly cleaned metal.
“Where did you find that?” Mr. Redd asked as she united the cord. The glare in his eyes had softened just a bit, but the anger was not gone. Seizing the opportunity, Scarlet moved in closer by sliding. She felt the folds of her dress crumble under her leg from the movement, but she neglected to tend to it.
“My father’s key to the flat where they worked. I found them the other day, hidden in the back of a bookcase. There was a concealed panel on the top shelf, just out of the reach of my mother. He had hiding places all over the house. I’ve been trying to locate all of them over the years, but he was extremely clever,” she answered with an innocent smile. After turning the key over in her hands, she handed it to Mr. Redd. As he held it with care, a light calm passed over his face. With extreme caution, Scarlet edged closer. She felt too near to Mr. Redd, but needed to make sure her mission was a success. “I came here to ask you to come with me,” she dropped her voice.
“Are you touched? Why? Why on earth would you want to go in there? What are you thinking?” Mr. Redd asked her in a cold frenzy. His eyes snapped away from the key as he withdrew. The previous ferocity seeped back into his form. Unlike before, Scarlet did not worry about watching her tongue in order to remain proper.
“I want to find out why they died. What exactly happened in the fire,” she told him with a commanding voice. Instantly, Mr. Redd returned the key to her and stood up silently. No longer meek, Scarlet stood up as well. “It’s been a decade, and we know next to nothing about their deaths. Our fathers went to the lumberyard investigating a murder. While there, the place burnt to the ground. They were said to have been trapped inside and burnt alive. All official investigations stopped days later. Everyone thought it was a dead end, and that the fire was an accident,” she said, tapping her palm with each point made. She did not need to say that she knew the police were wrong; the statement was plastered across her face.
“They stopped looking because there was nothing to look at. Everything burnt. It was a pile of ash by the end of the day. In any case, it’s all long gone. That place is a factory now,” Mr. Redd reminded her bitterly, but Scarlet shook her head. He opened his mouth to further dissuade her, but decided against it. She was fixed in her path, and it showed throughout her stance. While it was barely visible under the many layers of her dress, Scarlet spread her legs and locked her knees. Her hands were planted on her hips, drumming her pointer finger. Even though her lips were dry from the cold weather, she bit down on her lower lip. The fiery light flaring in her eyes challenged him to stop her.
“I am going there first thing tomorrow morning. You may join me if you wish,” she told him, uncrossing her arms and dropping them at her side. Without giving Mr. Redd a chance to retort, Scarlet marched out of his home. She walked back through the cold streets, hugging herself for warmth. It was slightly darker than when she left; more snow laden clouds gathered around the horizon and their feathered edges filtered the sunlight. Scarlet ignored their threat of snow as she retraced her previous route. Recalling each street and the various landmarks of shops and busy homes, she guided her feet with more ease than earlier. Each step drove her to increase her pace, as she longed to arrive in the warmth of her own home. Familiar streets tempted her to jog. Gritting her chattering jaw, Scarlet controlled her urge. She steadied her gait to smaller steps as neighbors glanced at her with suspicion. Smiling at them with polite courtesy, she crept up the stairs to her home. With utmost care, she partially opened up the front door and slipped inside. The train of her dress snagged on the bottom as she attempted to fit through the opening with stealth. Biting on her tongue, she pulled herself free with both hands. After closing the door, Scarlet heard heavy breathing behind her. “Hello Mother,” she grimaced, forcing herself to turn around.
“Where have you been?”
“I told you I would be out,” Scarlet replied lightly as she leaned against the door. Standing a few feet in front of her was a fuming Mrs. Black. After bowing her head to her mother, Scarlet shrugged off her hat and coat. The family’s wrinkled faced butler was waiting behind Mrs. Black to take them from her.
“I cannot believe you actually went to see that man,” Mrs. Black said as she followed her daughter. Scarlet ignored her mother’s rant on the impropriety of traversing the city without a chaperone. She heard a variation of the speech spouted at her both the previous night and that morning. Instead of listening obediently as she should have, she peered around and under the furniture. Mrs. Black watched with a scowl and then turned her back. Scarlet trailed after her mother out of the room, but was not yet ready to listen. Her mother noticed and took a hold of her arm.
“Pattie! Pattie, come here,” Mrs. Black yelled at the top of her lungs. In moments, a young woman dressed in a tidy black uniform hurried out of the dining room. After dusting her hand on her apron, she curtsied to her employers. “Please take Scarlet--” she said, keeping an eye on Scarlet as she released her daughter’s arm. As Pattie nodded to her instructions, Scarlet bounded back into the drawing room.
“Johnny!” she squealed while clapping her hands together. Looking up at her from underneath a chair was an overweight orange tabby. It watched as she stepped closer and held out her hand. With a deep purr, the cat rubbed up against her hand, and then her legs. “I knew you were hiding from me. Why my darling?” Scarlet cooed, scooping the cat up in her arms. “Pattie, could you draw a hot bath?” she then asked, rocking the cat back and forth.
“A bath? But…” Mrs. Black declared, but stopped and shook her head. Scarlet was already heading up the stairs, and would not be stopped. Muttering to herself, Mrs. Black left her daughter alone.
“Shall I fetch you when the water’s ready?” Pattie asked as she followed Scarlet on the stairs. Nodding, Scarlet silently walked to her bedroom. Once inside, Johnny squirmed his way out of her arms. Purring continuously, the cat ran to the bed, but still watched Scarlet.
“Has Pattie been giving you extra snacks? You’re getting big,” she cooed at him. Hearing about his favorite treats, Johnny scurried over to Scarlet. She overlooked the cat rubbing against her leg to take off her earrings. Only after Johnny began pawing at her dress did she pick him up with one arm. Even then, he continued to paw at her. “Oh, what do you want?” she asked, kissing him on the head. Scarlet then set him down on the dresser. As she lay out the key on top of her jewelry box, Scarlet rubbed Johnny’s back. “You are far too spoiled,” she said to the cat. Closing his eyes, he purred in agreement. There was a light knock on the door, which startled the cat. He meowed as it opened, but Scarlet hushed him.
“Everything’s ready miss,” Pattie said as she stepped into the room. She eyed Scarlet as she sat down on the bed and forcefully petted her car. Johnny felt unnerved by the increased pressure on his back, and jumped out of her arms.
“Quick, close the door. I do not want him running around the house with Mother upset. Heaven knows what she’ll do to him,” Scarlet waved for Pattie to move. She then rose from the bed and nudged the cat away from the door with one foot. Once Pattie closed it, Johnny zipped back under the bed. Scarlet ignored her cat as she walked over to the vanity. Once seated, she began pulling out all the pins that held her hair up. Without them, the shining locks fell past her shoulders. After shaking out her hair, Scarlet pulled up the skirt of the dress. As Pattie watched, she swiftly unlaced the walking boots. Once she finished, she pulled them off and tossed the boots to the side.
“How was your outing?” Pattie asked, picking up Scarlet’s boots and carrying them to the wardrobe. Blinking, Scarlet looked at the maid through the mirror. Instead of answering, she rose to her feet. Pattie understood her silence and stood behind her. Both women held their tongues as Scarlet outstretched her arms. With practiced skill, Pattie unlaced Scarlet’s tight walking dress. She then stepped aside to let Scarlet pull the dress off herself. After tossing it on the bed, Scarlet returned to standing still.
“Everything went well,” she said, looking over her shoulder as Pattie loosened the padding attached to her waist. Moving around her mistress carefully, Pattie nodded as she moved onto loosening the petticoat. As they did every day and night, she stepped aside so Scarlet could take it off herself.
“I am glad to hear it,” Pattie answered, taking the soft cloth out of Scarlet’s hands. Folding it gently, Pattie laid it atop the large dresser.
When she returned to her side, Scarlet took a deep breath in preparation for the next step. Pattie began unlacing the corset, so once it was loose enough Scarlet could unclasp it in the front. With each loosened string, she exhaled. Her mother demanded the tightest of corsets to maintain Scarlet’s already trained figure. Without the pressure on her abdomen, she could breathe freely and let her posture slack.
“When would you like me to fetch you?” Pattie asked once the corset was off. Keeping her chemise on, Scarlet shivered upon feeling the air on her skin.
“Whenever my mother demands, I suppose. We have to keep her happy,” Scarlet sighed, rubbing her arms. Her thoughts still on her mother, she knelt down to look for her cat. Still under the bed, Johnny prowled back and forth. Scarlet clicked her tongue, beckoning him to come out. The cat slowly obeyed and allowed her to lift him. Pattie opened the door for Scarlet, but did not follow. She had other work to do, first of which was tidying her mistress’ room. Cooing to keep the cat calm, Scarlet hurried down the hall. She used her back to push open the bathroom door, and then let Johnny jump from her arms once it closed. The room was much warmer than the rest of the house, and Scarlet enjoyed the humidity on her skin. Steam rose from the full tub, dancing over the surface. Grinning, Scarlet waved her hand through the thin wisps. They vanished after her touch, but more filtered up to take their place.
“Be careful,” Scarlet said after Johnny jumped onto the sink. For now he paced around the shallow bowl. She decided to let the cat be and carry on with her bath. After slipping out of her chemise, Scarlet spread it over the folded panel separating the tub from the rest of the bathroom. Humming a tune that been in her head all day, she pulled the panel to its full length. The humming stopped when Scarlet slipped her first foot into the water. It was scalding, just the way Scarlet liked it. Still, the heat forced a tiny yelp from her lips. Johnny’s ears perked from hearing her distress, and his head swiveled to see her submerge into the water. With his tail raised, Johnny approached the edge of the sink.
Once Scarlet was settled into the tub, she smiled at her cat. She held out one hand to let him know she was okay. Johnny appeared unsure, and then leapt off the sink. With the agility only cats possess, he landed on the rim of the tub. “Silly thing,” she giggled and flicked droplets of water at his nose. He hissed loudly, and then jumped to the floor to prowl around the tub.
Scarlet’s mind was unraveling in relaxation. Nestled up to her chin in water, Scarlet could finally pull away from every worry. Her mother was not pestering her, Mr. Redd was not confronting her, and the mystery of her father’s death was not hovering above her head. She could be alone with the thoughts she wanted. Hearing only the hollow bubbling of the water, Scarlet cleared her mind. When she emerged from the watery cocoon, Scarlet was ready to set her mind to task. Until Johnny popped his head up.
“I wonder why Daddy did not like you,” Scarlet said, bringing her face closer to Johnny’s. He cocked his head, and then licked her nose. She raised Johnny since he was the tinniest of kittens. Her father had brought him home one day, but refused to acknowledge the cat. “I bet you do not miss him,” Scarlet sighed, reclining against the back of the tub.
“Ten years. Ten years to the day. Ten years and I still miss him.”